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Dawn of a new day

Methodist Church readies remodel for Sunday School From flip phones to smart phones

SOLON– It’s time to adapt for the Solon United Methodist Church (SUMC).
The COVID-19 pandemic shook up an already changing cultural landscape for many churches, but provided a silver lining for the local Methodists.
The global shutdown early in 2020 allowed the SUMC to tackle a messy basement remodel and pave the way for a new Director of Christian Education.
The renewed focus on families and youth will be front and center as the church re-launches live Sunday School classes Sept. 13.
“We are re-examining who we are, and what we are as a church,” explained Pastor Ken Ferguson. “We know the church cannot operate in the future the way it did in the past.”
The full-time education position has been vacant for four years, with church member Jill Weetman serving as an interim volunteer.
Now Weetman is helping mentor Christian Education Director Sam Bierman, who joined the church staff Aug. 21.
Bierman, 21, a Tipton native, graduated in May from the University of Northern Iowa, and has a background in youth camps in Okoboji and Alabama.
“He has been an absolute blessing to our church in the week-plus that he’s been here,” Weetman noted. “He just brings a spark to our entire church. He’s definitely the right person for the job.”
Bierman said he was excited to be a part of the church and to “see where God takes me in this moment.”
The ball started rolling last fall after a conversation between Paul Miller, chair of the church trustees, Weetman and office administrator Lindy Hopp. The three talked about remodeling the church office and possibly making updates downstairs.
“I’ve had all my kids go through here,” Miller said of the basement classrooms. “This needs updating; and we really need to promote our youth.”
The remodel became part of a bigger plan to place an emphasis on families and children, he said.
“Stained ceiling tiles, stained carpet. It just didn’t look like we put a lot of interest into our young kids.” Weetman said of the classrooms.
She prepared a proposal for the church leadership and council, and meetings were held with key patrons of the church.
“And didn’t really have any problem approving the money for it, even though it’s not the easiest of times right now for churches,” Miller noted.
For the last four months, church members, volunteers and paid workers have undertaken a floor-to-ceiling renovation which included new paint and floor coverings, new cabinets and countertops, the installation of new monitors and ceiling fans, new furniture and upgrades to electrical systems and Internet technology.
One classroom was converted to a homey hospitality room for family events like weddings, baptisms and funerals, something the church was lacking before, Weetman said.
“It kind of shows you things don’t stop even though maybe the facility is shut down,” Miller added. “You move forward with stuff.”
It’s been an exciting path filled with a lot of God moments, the church leaders agreed.
The pandemic, while shutting down in-person services, allowed the church to utilize its foyer and other spaces for temporary storage, Weetman said.
All the cabinets were donated by the Solon Community School District from the old middle school, she added.
“That’s probably what made the entire project possible,” she observed. “Otherwise we couldn’t have done what we’ve done financially.”
Al Hulse, a longtime trustee with a facilities maintenance background, said funding for the project came from earnings generated by the church’s permanent endowment fund.
“All of this remodeling that we’ve done has been paid for by that fund. We can posthumously thank these people with a vision for our church who said ‘I’m gonna invest money in this church that I will never see.’ It is like old people who plant trees,” Hulse said. “They will never see them grow up and mature, but they do it for future generations.”
The project also benefited from a variety of volunteers inside and outside of the church.
A lot of time was spent on the cabinets alone, Miller reported. Weetman measured available cabinets and countertop at the Solon Community Center while a commercial designer assisted in determining where cabinets could be placed, he said.
Once that was done, the heavy cabinets were removed from the former middle school, hauled back to the church, carried into the basement and installed.
A single two-door cabinet was a two-person lift, Miller observed.
“We’ve had a lot of angels that just popped in here in spite of the church being locked up, people found a way in,” Hulse noted. People showed up unannounced and just went to work, he said.
There have been countless such instances, Pastor Ferguson said.
“It doesn’t just happen,” he said. “These are clearly things that indicate to us that we are not alone in this project.”
In the last months, he said, he’s had to just scratch his head in amazement.
With Bierman on board, he added, “the pieces are just coming together beautifully.”
Bierman hopes to recruit new people to come help at the church, and to develop ideas for how the church and community can come together.
“I am so excited to be a part of this new community and congregation and I cannot wait to be able to connect and ignite a spark in the new families of the area,” he said. “Throughout this whole process, we have all been so positive. We are blessed to have the help that we have, and I am so excited to see the finished product when it is complete.”
The renovation project is over 90 percent done, with one office to finish, hallway carpet to lay and some furniture and monitors to install.
“We’re within two weeks of starting Sunday School, so we’re going to be working right down to the wire,” Weetman noted.
SUMC is hoping to reopen the basement in time for a new season of in-person education Sunday, Sept. 13, with small groups wearing masks, social distancing “and lots of hand sanitizer,” she said.
But organizers also have backup plans for outdoor or online programs if they can’t go live, she added.
In August, the church began holding Sunday services outside on the grass, Ferguson said. Starting with September, services have moved indoors to the Family Life Center, he said, with hopes of moving back to the sanctuary in October.
That’s not set in stone, he added.
“As with everything else in our culture right now, it’s very fluid,” Ferguson said.
The church has its own re-entry committee, populated with local health professionals who have leant their expertise and guidance, he said.
Church youth groups, which typically meet Wednesday evenings during the school year, will begin with an informational meeting Sept. 16 and hold two weeks of sessions virtually before hopefully meeting in person the first week of October, Weetman said.
The church is hoping to get the word out to young families in the community, she said. “We’d love to meet you.”
Part of Bierman’s role will be as leader of middle school youth groups, but another part will be showing the community what the church has to offer.
“We know that families, kids, everyone in the world we live in today is very busy,” Ferguson pointed out. “Very busy. It’s our hope to engage people as much as we can, helping their families and helping them.”
Bierman will also spearhead social media efforts, he said, reaching out to a younger generation of potential members.
“Some of us old people still use flip phones,” Hulse noted. “We need him to maybe bring some of us up to speed.”
Bierman has also worked to beef up the church’s Facebook page, adding a Tribute Tuesday and Thoughtful Thursday, and plans to open an SUMC Instagram account.
“That’s the strength of the church, is bringing together young and old alike, building for the future,” Ferguson said. “The church changes, and change is not easy, but we all know that we have to change… from flip phones to smart phones.”